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TIM AND MIKE: Talking OTAs

Posted May 21, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara tackle all OTA-related topics.

The news of the day – and of the Lions’ offseason, really – is that Ndamukong Suh has joined his teammates for this week’s OTA workouts.

Suh has not taken part in the voluntary workouts, but has followed his program of previous seasons by working out on his own, including at the team’s Allen Park facility.

Suh gets a lot of attention, even in his absence, but there are other issues to consider – Chris Houston’s toe injury, which rookies will contribute the soonest -- as the Lions move into a phase of the offseason that ends with the mandatory minicamp June 10-12. After that, they break until training camp begins in late July.

Starting with Suh, has the attention been too much?

Mike: No, not at all. He hasn’t broken any rules by skipping the voluntary workouts before the OTAs, but he is one of the major figures in the NFL, and whatever he does creates a storyline. If he had been here earlier, the theme would have been his leadership and commitment to the new coaching staff.

He had the opportunity to shape the narrative however he wanted. His choice was to follow his own program. With that comes speculation about whether he wants to remain in Detroit, and it is heightened by the fact that he is going into the last year of his contract, with no word on the state of negotiations.

If Suh has another dominating season, the offseason drama might not be forgotten, but it won’t matter. Performance outweighs everything, and Suh’s desire to compete has never been questioned. If fact, just the opposite. The knock is that he competes too hard.

Has it all added up to too much attention?

Tim: You make some great points, but it's been a little much. The fact that Suh hasn’t been around for the first two phases of the offseason program shouldn’t have been as big of a deal as it was, but I see why it was.

His regimen isn't any different than any other year, but this isn't a normal year because of all the changes.

Where I thought Suh really dropped the ball was when he wasn't around for the first minicamp.

The Lions were afforded that minicamp on the account of having a new coaching staff and it was an opportunity to get a jump-start on the implementation of scheme and a chance for the team to come together a little bit. Maybe there was a scheduling conflict, but if not, it was a misstep by Suh.

Him missing the other parts of the training program isn't that big of a deal. Suh is going to be in shape and he’s going to be dominant. That's all that really matters in the end, right?

I’m growing tired of the Suh topic (here’s hoping he talks to the media Wednesday) so let’s take a quick turn here.

If Houston’s recovery takes longer than anticipated, and dips into training camp, how much of a concern is that?

Chris HoustonCB Chris Houston (Photo: Gavin Smith)

Mike: It would be a big concern if there isn’t anyone as good or better than Houston to take his place, and at this point Houston has to be considered one of the starting cornerbacks. His performance fell off last season, and some of that can be attributed to his toe injury. He also lost confidence.

Whether it’s Houston or any other player, if a change is going to be made it’s better to make it because of performance as opposed to an injury forcing a change. If that happens, the question is whether any of the young cornerbacks taken in the last three drafts can step up and handle the position.

Tim: One of the more interesting parts to open OTA practices and eventually training camp will be how scheme plays into all these conversations.

It’s expected that second-year cornerback Darius Slay will be much better in Teryl Austin’s man press scheme.

Who else might excel is a scheme like Austin's? Chris Greenwood? Nevin Lawson? It’s one of the big question marks as we start the third phase of the offseason training program. Sometimes a player just has to find the right scheme and then they take off.

The rookies had a rude awaking practicing with the veterans on Tuesday. Rookie fullback Chad Abram said the vets nearly left him behind because of the pace of practice.

The rookies will eventually get it, but which second-year player are you expecting the biggest leap in development from?

Mike: I have two candidates, and it’s hard to pick who could be more different.

Slay is an obvious choice. He was a second-round pick last season, but it was clear early on that he had to get accustomed to the pro game in every way. He has talent and good size, but it seemed like he was overwhelmed and just happy to be in the NFL.

Not every rookie progresses at the same rate, and Slay should learn from last year. If he stays healthy, he can be a solid cornerback. It will almost be like having an extra draft pick.

And Sam Martin should progress from his rookie season. He has the leg to be an upper echelon punter and kickoff man. He was taken off kickoffs late in the season because of a nagging injury. He’ll have a better idea of how to pace himself through a 16-game season.

All rookies should be better in Year 2, but those are my top candidates.

Tim: For me it’s Ziggy Ansah and Larry Warford. I know what you’re thinking, ‘Tim, these two are already good players.’ Yes, they are, but I think the Lions have only scratched the surface with those two.

Ansah led all rookies with eight sacks last year but it was based mostly on athleticism. He’s still learning to be a rusher. Let’s not forget he’d only been playing football three years coming into last season. He’ll be much more polished this year and he’ll be a double-digit sack artist for the Lions.

I talked to Warford a couple weeks ago and he admitted that he wore down at the end of last year and didn’t play nearly as well as he did at the beginning of the year.

Warford is a year older and a year wiser and took extra care of his body this offseason. He knows what it takes to get through 16 games and I expect him to be completely dominant in year two.

Okay, Mike, OTAs are open to the media on Wednesday. When you walk out on the field where will your eyes take you first?

Mike: Suh.

Any other questions that don’t need to be asked?

Tim: He’s No. 90 in case you forgot.

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